Hemocyanin facilitates lignocellulose digestion by wood-boring marine crustaceans

Katrin Besser, Graham P Malyon, William Scott Eborall, Giovanni Paro da Cunha, Jefferson Goncalves Filgueiras, Adam Dowle, Lourdes Cruz Garcia, Samuel J. Page, Ray Dupree, Marcelo Fernando Kern, Leonardo Dario Gomez, Yi Li, Luisa Elias, Federico Sabbadin, Shaza E. Mohamad, Giovanna Pesante, Clare G. Steele-King, Eduardo Ribeiro de Azevedo, Igor Polikarpov, Paul DupreeSimon M. Cragg, Neil Charles Bruce, Simon John McQueen Mason

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Woody (lignocellulosic) plant biomass is an abundant renewable feedstock, rich in polysaccharides that are bound into an insoluble fiber composite with lignin. Marine crustacean woodborers of the genus Limnoria are among the few animals that can survive on a diet of this recalcitrant material without relying on gut resident microbiota. Analysis of fecal pellets revealed that Limnoria targets hexose-containing polysaccharides (mainly cellulose, and also glucomannans), corresponding with the abundance of cellulases in their digestive system, but xylans and lignin are largely unconsumed. We show that the limnoriid respiratory protein, hemocyanin, is abundant in the hindgut where wood is digested, that incubation of wood with hemocyanin markedly enhances its digestibility by cellulases, and that it modifies lignin. We propose that this activity of hemocyanins is instrumental to the ability of Limnoria to feed on wood in the absence of gut symbionts. These findings may hold potential for innovations in lignocellulose biorefining.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5125
Number of pages14
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2018.


  • Animals
  • Cellulose/metabolism
  • Diet
  • Digestion/physiology
  • Feces/chemistry
  • Gastrointestinal Tract/metabolism
  • Hemocyanins/metabolism
  • Isopoda/metabolism
  • Lignin/metabolism
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Wood/parasitology
  • Xylans/metabolism

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